Friday, July 31, 2015

Sharing Zoe

It is probably clear to any regular readers of my blog (as well as friends who have ever seen me in real life) that Zoe and I are very close. Since she was born and throughout her 5 year lifespan, we have spent the majority of time together; we have fun together, we travel together and we sleep next to each other. I am probably the luckiest mom in the world because she is so incredible easy and fun to be with. We rarely have any tiffs and honestly, if she does get mad at me, we quickly get over it. She actually doesn't like being mad or angry: last Monday, as we walked through Bleeker Street after returning milk bottles in Murrey's Cheese shop, she suddenly started stumping her feet and whimper. "Why are you mad?", I asked and she first didn't reply. "What's wrong?" I repeated. She said she didn't want to leave. "I don't want to be angry, but I'm so annoyed*. I don't want to go flying". I quizzed her more, why she didn't want to go flying. "I don't want to go back to Daddy. I want to stay with you here. I want your place to be my real home and Daddy's place to be a pretend home. And I just want to be happy**". At this point we had stopped in front of the door to the Bisou Macaron shop where we had planned to get coffee. I didn't know what to say because as much as I wanted the same, it was not that easy. In fact it was very complicated. We went inside and a very milky latte and a chocolate macaron made her bad mood better.

"I love you Zoe"
When Zoe's father and I first split up, I had taken care of her for the majority of time until then. I never minded that because tiny babies mainly need their mom, for food and care taking. Besides, I was the one with a non-permanent job that could be put on hold, so even though I didn't want that, it was the "obvious" option when we didn't have daycare for a couple of months after moving to Sweden. As we started sharing her officially 3days/3days, I still took the majority of the time with her. It just ended up being like that because he was busy, needed to travel, go to meetings and I often traveled to Denmark to see family with Zoe. I tallied the first year and a half at one point and Zoe had been with me exactly 66% of the time. He tended to go on vacation without her, I tended to go on vacation with her (not that I went on much 'vacation', because I could never afford that after the split, but I would bring her to conferences and to see family). The following year, the split became slightly more even, but the tradition of me bringing Zoe on vacation and her dad going on holiday without her, was still alive. I took her to doctors' appointments and the dentist. I arranged play dates and communicated with the daycare, even being the parental representative for her group. When I talked to the teachers last time (phoning from New York), they informed me that he did not show up to the last teacher/parent meeting.

Her dad's demands surfaced when I got the opportunity to move to New York, first for one semester, now for potential renewal.  Zoe was not allowed to go with me for long. The first demands were that she could only go for one month. Then I got it negotiated to two months. I managed to make her stay with me 2 1/2 out of the six. The two months we were apart in May-June were the toughest months in my life, and undoubtedly also the toughest in Zoe's life too. The first times we talked on Skype after she had returned to Sweden she could only cry. She didn't want to hang up, he had to take the iPad away from her in the end.

I'm trying my best to suggest options, possibilities, testing different formats for sharing her time between us, but I am only being met with demands and now threats. Threats that he will sue me for custody. I broke down completely when he insinuated that; just thinking of Zoe not living with me at least half the time makes me terrified. She would be heart broken. I cannot count on both hands anymore, the times she has leaned in and whispered to me "Mommy, I wish I lived with you all the time".

*I'm trying to translate the Danish word "sur", which is somewhere between angry and annoyed
** "glad" is somewhere between happy and being in a good mood

Thursday, July 30, 2015

New York - Stockholm

I love you mommy
A couple of days ago, Zoe and I flew to Stockholm via Copenhagen. As usual (I can't believe I can write that) we got upgraded to economy plus, which meant absolutely nothing because the online entertainment system was broken anyway and our legs are so short that we don't really need the extra legroom. In fact, Zoe tends to just place her feet across my lap, put her pillow on the armrest by the window and fall asleep. Being stuck under her, I had a restless sleep but it didn't matter. I was with her and she held my hand when the plane shook as we descended. In Copenhagen she told me that now we did not have a secret language anymore and I had to continuously remind her when she talked too loud in the lounge. In Stockholm I handed her over to her dad, whom she hugged tightly and told she had missed. I missed her the second they turned the corner leaving for the bus and had an even more restless sleep that night.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Danish way of Parenting

This week marks the end of our "dance/theater camp and full time working mom" month and so far it has been a success. Earlier today I came home to an excited Zoe who played sleepy house with the babysitter and her dolls, after a day full of drama camp, sand and water at the playground around West 100th Street. She was exhausted but also excited about the final show tomorrow. While she finished putting her dolls to sleep I had a chat with the babysitter who ran me through the afternoon. She told me about Zoe insisting on noodles for lunch and my well-behaved child who had accidentally called her mommy a couple of times. We bonded over our Danishness and I realized exactly why Zoe has been so extra happy with this girl. She trusts that Zoe is doing what she is supposed to, she treats Zoe like a person, and lets her make a lot of choices herself. The playfulness more than emphasis on 'teaching' and the respect for the child as a person. Not that only Danes treat children like this, although my new book is hinting in that direction, my friend pointed out the other day that this was more a non-American perspective than anything and that he (who is Australian) had also used such strategies with his children. I never gave this much thought, to me an equal, trusting, explaining attitude was always the foundation of being a good mom. But I have been very lucky, because with two brothers much younger than I, interaction with children has always been a big part of my life. So when I had Zoe, I had already thought about many things in terms of children and I knew pretty much how I wanted to raise them and treat them. But I also knew that I had to improvise and think about things as I go along.

After the babysitter had left, Zoe watched an hour and a half of television while I cooked, we ate and I cleaned up. I figured she had spent all day being very active and just needed to relax. Then we brushed her doll's teeth (and Zoe's) and read three books in bed before talking a bit about family. At one point she realized that while my mom has three children, my step-dad only has two, but my real father died four years ago and Zoe started crying, hugging me. I comforted her and told her it was okay and I would take her to the island where he had lived one day. She asked me about his life, what he did and it was nice to be able to tell her about that now that she is old enough to understand. I said, he would be looking down and be very proud of his grand daughter. She disagreed and told me that he misses me more than her because I am his child. Which was actually very insightful of a five year old. She then fell asleep while I caressed her back. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Summer in the City

One of my vices this summer is drinking cold read wine. It came about after our 4th of July picnic in Brooklyn Bridge Park where we last minute realized we weren't allowed to bring alcohol. My friend (who is Scottish and therefore never short of ideas of how to smuggle alcohol) poured a bottle or two into a large coke bottle. As it turned out we were five people short (for various reasons ranging from food poisoning to obsessive compulsive disorder) and hence had a full two litter coke bottle of red wine left. I promptly put it in the fridge and it has been sweetening my evenings on occasion since.

Summer in New York is hot. To cool us down, Zoe and I discovered a small pool within the confounds of a playground just a couple of blocks from us. We went over one day almost too late but managed to dip out bathing suit clad bodies in the cool water for ten minutes before they closed. Zoe was ecstatic. She loves water despite being scared of it and not being able to swim yet. This is an activity for her and her dad though. I rarely swim although I like it and am quite good (fast) at it. When it all comes down to it, I'm more of a gossip-in-the-hot-tub-with-a-drink kind of person. Gotta wait a few years for Zoe to join in on that. 

The summer weather reminds me of the past two summers where we also spent significant time in New York. The main difference back then though was the better state of my finances. This summer I prioritized babysitting and summer camp for Zoe, which has cost me more than half my (sorry Swedish) paycheck. As I bought cheap generic goldfish crackers for Zoe rather than organic cheddar cheese bunnies for double the price, I thought about how I could have done it differently. I could have gone to Denmark for the month of June with Zoe, missing out on a whole month's work, which would eventually affect my career significantly because my main conference has paper deadline mid September. Then I could have come back to an empty office in August working my b** off while all the Americans were on holiday and while Zoe was with her dad. Probably the most depressing situation I can imagine. I love my life with Zoe in New York. It keeps me energetic, happy and optimistic. And Zoe has been overly happy with her different day camps, as well as her new Danish babysitter. If I had to make that choice again, I would do the same. And enjoying the cold red wine. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Everyday structure

This morning, as we were about to leave Zoe looked puzzled at me: "Mommy, we did not do what we used to do today?" I looked at her to get an explanation. She said that I had watched TV (iPad) with her while having breakfast. I agreed. While eating my morning granola I had watched some show with a Frog teaching basic concepts of math (plus and minus) and wondered if Zoe was picking up on anything in terms of actual numbers and counting or just enjoyed the cartoons and the songs. I like the Danish math shows much better because they are more silly and weird, adhering to the Danish sense of humor. But we had watched 5 of those the previous evening.

Which got me thinking about just how much our everyday life in New York has changed and become more messy. I find it really hard to admit, but it is true: Zoe has not eaten dinner at the dining table since she came back here in the end of June. We eat while watching a show on the iPad on the couch. Part of my giving in is actually that our dining table is squeezed in along the wall with too little space for the chairs and it is so unstable that a small push makes it wobble. It is not cozy to sit there. Another part is that I don't think of this as everyday life. Since we came here it has been an exceptional time. New York was (officially) a temporary space and everything we did was temporary. I made exceptions for everything. On top of that my intense work meant that I relied on a number of babysitters (to the downfall of my finances) and still do now that she is in half-day camp. No day is the same, sometimes I come home 6:30 pm to a Zoe who has already eaten, other days we come home at 5pm and I scramble to make some dinner out of what I can find in the cabinet (pasta with butter with a side of cucumbers being a favorite).

I made rules and structures like we had back in Stockholm except they were different rules. There we had a rule about having dinner at the dining table without watching TV. Now we have a rule that says no TV until after 6pm. I used to be strict on breakfast, now I let her grab the last part of the chocolate cookie because it was there and, I, myself, had the last half of a macaron for breakfast, so who am I to judge? I truly don't think that bite of cookie is going to be Zoe's downfall to doing drugs at 14 (or becoming obese for that matter) but I'm starting to worry that I'm using the "single mom" as an excuse. I have never wanted to think that I couldn't do an optimal job being Zoe's mom, just because I'm on my own. In fact, I think I can do a better job without being with someone else that I constantly have to negotiate with in terms of what to let her do and not do. Her dad is way more strict than me, he keeps special days for candy where I let her have a little bit most of the times she asks (which is really not a lot) and he says no a lot more than I do. Instead I have no choice but to focus on her when we are together (not that I would ever want to do anything less) and I don't agree when people say "well, it's nice to have a bit of time on your own too" in relation to her spending two months in Stockholm. I don't need that kind of time on my own. I need to work during the day and I need an hour at night after she is asleep. Other than that I need to be Zoe's mom.

I think it is time for a couple of new rules. But I also think I'll talk with Zoe about them tonight. If anyone should help making them, it should be her. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Heat stroke

With Zoe being back for July and me working, I have signed her up for several half-day camps according to her interest such as dance, music and acting. She even got into the much coveted Frozen themed dance camp that was overbooked on the first day of signup, possibly because the dance studie wanted to give the spot to her (or simply because she was on top of the waiting list but of course her mom always think the former). I have a babysitter for some afternoons but want to spend some time with her too and expect to just have to work more at night.

We had high hopes for the very first day music camp on the upper east side where I had packed lunch for both of us (the price of camp is strenuous on my budget to say the least) and expected to go to central park between that and dance class later in the afternoon. We excitedly found a bench in the shade because it was scorching hot, but Zoe was exhausted and didn't eat much. Instead she lay down on my lap and fell asleep. I covered her bare arms with her sweater and put more sunscreen on her cheeks but it was a very hot day and just because your bench is in the shade when you sit down, does not mean it continues to be in the shade. The sun tends to move. I really didn't want to wake her up because she had already slept less than she needed, having to wake up at 7am to make it to music class for 9am, so I let her be while I listened to music and surfed Facebook. After an hour she woke up again and we packed up. As she started walking, she started whimpering and complaining that her head hurt. I made sure she drank a lot of water and we made it to the subway only because I carried her one full block and a half. When we got on the train there were no seats and I for once cursed the New Yorkers for not getting up for a crying 5 year old.

We got off at the station close to the dance studio and despite Zoe's previous enthusiasm, she was now clearly not feeling well. "Can we please just go home?" she asked and I knew this was bad if she did not want to go to dance class so I immediately flagged down a taxi. At home I made sure she got more water and left an abundance of snacks on the table next to the bed including chocolate ice-cream which she had two bites of. I looked it up online: Zoe clearly had heat exhaustion, the step before a heat stroke. She was hot but since I don't have a thermometer (which says more about how rarely Zoe is ill than my qualities as a mother) I didn't know how much.

She slowly recovered and although she was not on top of things the next day, she insisted on going to music class. I let her and bought a thermometer from the pharmacy on the way home. I now know that she had 38.5 C, which is a fever but not a terrible or dangerous one. She did not eat much for two days but on day three she finally cheered up, no fever, being back to her normal self. Needless to say, we are now looking for indoor actives to do during the day and no naps in Central park anymore.